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Leak hits Shell Nigeria pipeline at center of environmental case

Kristen Roy / courtesy Leigh Day & Co.

A local farmer looks on as a piece of paper dipped in a pool in the area around the Bomu-Burry pipeline is shown partially covered with oil residue in October, 2011.

A troubled Shell oil pipeline in Nigeria ruptured, spilling around hundreds of gallons of crude oil a minute for around 24 hours, a member of a nearby community told msnbc.com on Tuesday.

"I saw oil coming out from the ground, like a stream, on the pipeline," Erabanabari Kobah, who lives near the Bomu-Bonny pipeline, told msnbc.com. 

"Coming from four different points that are leaking and in every one second from each of these point.  (It was) not less than two liters of oil are coming out every second," Kobah said, adding that he had filmed Sunday night's leak, although msnbc.com had yet to see the footage.

A company spokesman confirmed the onshore spill on the Bomu-Bonny pipeline in Nigeria's Delta region but said the company would not release any details related to it until an ongoing investigation involving the Royal Dutch Shell-run joint venture, SPDC, Nigerian regulators and representatives of the local community was complete.  

Landmark case: Nigerian villagers sue Shell over oil spills

The development could well complicate efforts for Shell, which is already facing a lawsuit for tens of millions of dollars in a London court for a leak on the same pipeline in nearby swampland.

Shell admits responsibility for two spills that devastated the Bodo fishing communities in the delta, a labyrinth of creeks and swamps.

The lawsuit, brought by 11,000 Nigerians from the Bodo community in the London High Court, concerns two oil spills in 2008/9 that they say destroyed their livelihoods and was at least 60 times worse than the company originally announced, advocacy group Amnesty International said on April 23.

Success for the claimants in the case would create a precedent that other communities affected by oil spills around the world might follow. It is being nervously watched by the oil industry.

100 miles of oil: Spill likely Nigeria’s worst in decade

Shell maintains that much of the oil spilled in the region is the result of theft and sabotage.  The case against the Shell rests on the contention that operational spills have caused extensive damage and, while there may be ongoing illegal theft from pipelines in the region, Shell are responsible for cleaning up the damage and compensating rural communities who have lost the fishing and farming income.

"If this was indeed operational failure, on the same pipeline from which the Bodo 2008 spills occurred, then it demonstrates an urgent need for the integrity of this particular pipeline to be reinforced or for it simply to be replaced," said Kristen Roy, of London-based law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the 11,000 Nigerians in the U.K.

Shell no longer operates in the area following lengthy disputes with local Nigerians about pollution, but still has pipelines and other infrastructure there and says it is committed to clearing up spills, whatever the cause.

PhotoBlog: Nigerian oil industry photos reveal extremes of poverty, wealth

 A United Nations report in August last year criticized Shell and the Nigerian government for contributing to 50 years of pollution in Ogoniland, which it says needs the world's largest ever oil clean-up that could take up to 30 years.

Kobah, a local environmental activist, said regardless of the outcome of the case against Shell he and others in the community wanted the company out of Nigeria. 

"I was brought up in that community and I can see an unbelievable change over time," he said. "Our trees are no longer producing fruit, harvests no longer produce food, the fishing is pathetic."

"I don't think Shell should be here anymore," he said. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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